Thursday, 6 September 2012

Jeans. Shorts. Pizza. And... 5'24"/km!

Hey-up! Been a while, hasn’t it?

What can I say… fear not, all is well! Training’s progressing nicely… loving the trail running, in itself a good things as it means the weather’s been kind enough to allow it… but also still beating the tarmac as I strive to find the right training balance for the 10k and Half-Marathon combo.

I guess there is something reassuring about this lack of starry-eyed enthusiasm. There’s a sense of routine and of being accustomed to it. I’m currently running around four times a week. This week began with a trail run on Monday, followed by my ‘usual’ 12.27k on Tuesday in an encouraging (but with scope for improvement) 1h10’46”. Yesterday was the one unusual day and, since it featured an evening run, I didn’t run this morning, whereas I’ll hit the trail again tomorrow (Friday) and then go on my 18k long run on Saturday.

(Even though I’ve been tweaking my trail route, in essence it’s the same – I’m just looking for a way of taking the nettles out of the equation and I’m just about there. It really is a lovely route: shame I can’t take it in fully as that would entail diverting concentration from what’s under my feet, which is not recommended when running on trail by the sea/channel*. The steep steps that link the end of it back to the main road are as bad as they come, especially around 7:30am – but, if #hillsaremyfriends, imagine those beggars?)

I briefly mentioned that last night was slightly different. Before heading on it, I had no idea as to how it might go: I did the following (in every sense), I had no idea as to either length or nature of route. That’s because I went along with Jon, a friend from church. And a fellow Northerner, come to that – albeit from t’wrong side o’t Pennines, like. The Squintanis have been absent from church during the summer as there are no children groups during the holidays: our kids are somewhat ‘lively’ and it is in nobody’s interest for us to take them down for a 90’ service. Yes, they’re amusing and yes, the rest of the congregation generally find them funny: but it’s different when they’re your kids, I often find myself wanting to wring their necks and that’s not really in the Christian spirit. Had they been on Calvary Hill some 1979 years ago, I suspect Christ’s last words would not have been “"Father, into your hands I commend my spirit", rather “Will you two please stand still a minute? I’m trying to die here, thereby changing the course of mankind forever!” But hey, who knows?

Anyway… so yes, last night I went out running with Jon. Jon who’s run the last nine Bristol half-marathons. Jon who’s run four marathons, an’all. I’ve not been publicising my plans for September 30 but it seemed stupid not to tap into his wisdom when I saw him last Sunday (at a barbecue, incidentally, not in church). I can clock as many miles of training as you like, but one thing that will not change is that a fortnight on Sunday (!) will be the first time I take to the starting line for a half marathon. I will have no experience of running in a group environment, let alone, for all of my map-reading, of the Bristol route. I will have run in the SheffieldTenTenTen by ThenThenThen (sorry) but by its nature (shorter, hillier, smaller, mixed terrain), I’m not relying on that to shed light onto how to run a half marathon. Jon, however, can do shedding aplenty. On Sunday he invited me to join him at Portishead Running Club, for that very reason. But it clashes with the kids’ bedtime, much to Mrs S’ chagrin… I really cannot stress enough how one of running’s greatest benefits, for me, has been the way I can schedule / reschedule it around work and home. I never thought I’d be one of those deranged people you see out running before the clock’s even struck seven in the morning, but there you go – it’s happened. It’s been happening. Frequently. And to think… you’ve got it, that I can’t stand running!

Jon’s legs are also well accustomed to figuring out at what pace they’re running, just like his mind can convert pace into projected finishing times. So hopefully they – sorry, he can help me figure out whether two hours is a realistic, if challenging, objective. As things stand, I’d be happy with breaking 2h15’. But then I’ve been running up and down hills, now on trail… I have no idea as to what I am capable of running 21.0975 of fairly flat road. I am trying to push myself more, to ease off less on the downhill and flat parts of my ‘route’ – and my legs are feeling it, so it must be doing some good. But Sunday 30 will still be an eye opener, one way or another.
So, that’s why last night was different. Prior to heading out I genuinely had no idea as to how long or how far I’d be running. Lest we forget, in April I couldn’t run to the post box without struggling, and there would have been no way I would have ventured anywhere with anyone without an indication of length/time. But it’s been a good five months, all in all. Not that I achieved my over-riding goal, mind… as I wrote very early on, in May, this to me is “about fitting into my clothes! Into my jeans! I can’t be doing with buying new ones…”
Loft-bound. Open to offers.
(Scared I may need them again!)
…well, let me tell you brothers and sisters, I have failed on that front. Miserably! Because I no longer fit into any of my ‘old’ jeans. Seven highly valuable pairs of them have been consigned to the loft, with assorted shorts anall! I had to have three new pairs delivered (Tesco!) yesterday and I expect more will follow**! The pair I’m wearing right now seems too good for the £5 I paid… apologies to any mistreated and abused factory workers out in Bangladesh (I’ve checked) to whom I may owe their existence, but see, there’s this recession…
…OK, sorry. You’re right, it’s got nowt to do with the recession: I’m just a tight Northern git. Even tighter than those old jeans felt back in the early months of this year. The 34”, that is: the 36” and 38” weren’t bad, to be fair. But these 32”… yeah, these feel good, man. 32” x 34”… aye, the waist size is a smaller number than the inside leg! Blimey…

 …anyway, about last night. When I got a text from Jon advising me to “bring a towel”, I feared I might be in for the sweat of my life: and believe you me, I perspire acutely at the best of times, so “the sweat of my life” should come with a flood warning. As it happens that was just to protect his car seats en route back to the run, which took place in the cool of the evening. We drove the short distance down to Portishead High Street and headed off into the sunset, twisting and turning through Portishead’s Village Quarter, one of the new housing developments, and the adjoining nature reserve. It was the first time I’d ventured into the nature reserve – see a pattern developing? And this is no small estate to which I’m referring: Portishead has almost doubled in size since I moved here in 1999, allowing it to become the largest town in the UK without a railway station! And guess who it steamed past? Clevedon, the next town along! Awesome for folk like me who can’t drive! Anyroad…
…Jon was setting the pace and I aimed to keep up with him. He did ask me how long I normally run for and I duly volunteered 1h15’, which is on the high end of the scale for my 10.2k morning runs. Jon’s legs and Jon’s brain, not to mention Jon’s watch, all knew what was required for a sub-2hr half marathon. Which was great, for my legs are not that knowledgeable. They’re also prone, when I run solo (i.e. when I run), to fall back into a comfort zone, not least on the flat and downhill sections which break up the monotony of the uphill sections. No such let up last night: Jon kept pushing (or pulling?) me along, keeping any such slackness at bay…
…and, unsurprisingly, it paid off. We clocked 14.23km in 1h16’45” at a pace of 5’24”. What does that mean? Well, such a pace, for me, is unheard of. OK, so on August 17 I ran at a pace of 5’09”: but that was just 5k, which I ran knowingly at a pace I could not sustain for longer. To manage 67.4% of a half marathon at that pace, with a projected time of 1h54’, 17”/km under the 5’41”/km pace required to hit the two hour mark… well, without boring you further, that was good for the soul.

Albeit unsure about how much so, I always knew I’d be able to run faster with someone dictating the pace. All I need to do now is find someone who will run at a steady 5’41”/km on September 30 and follow them. After all, how bad can the additional 6.87km needed to turn last night’s run into a half marathon be?

Excellent question, I’m glad you asked. Let me look into it and get back to you, I’m genuinely not sure. I was definitely feeling tired towards the end, more so than my pace chart would suggest. But I was feeling it more in my mind than in my legs. For the majority of the run we were away from ‘base camp’ and my brain couldn’t care one way or another. But once we were back on the High Street and heading away from Jon’s car… yeah, brain didn’t like that. It wasn’t impressed with what the legs were doing. I asked Jon for an indication of the route purely to put the mind at ease. Once we’d turned round and headed in the ‘right’ direction, the legs suddenly felt more comfortable, for they had the brain’s blessing***. I still pushed Jon for a ‘finishing line’ as he’d wisely suggested we stop before the car to allow the legs to cool down. He suggested a shoe shop along the High Street and that was good enough for both brain and legs: I needed to know because…
…OK, before I write that bit: I am no running tactician. I am, however, prone to jocular childish behaviour – in any scenario. When Littl’Un through a “I want mummy!” fit on Wednesday night, hiding under his duvet, I resorted to lifting it and shouting “boo!” at him – can’t say it worked, but it was my way of dealing with it. I can only do outright serious in small doses. What does this mean from a running perspective?
…it means that knowing where the finishing line was meant I could put in a sprint. Having longer legs than Jon, that meant I could ‘beat’ him. Which is grossly unfair, as I’m sure he could have upped the pace earlier and left me stranded! But the childish nature of a last-minute sprint is something that appeals to me. Relatives of mine will tell you I was born middle-aged in terms of maturity and that is awfully kind (I think) of them: but you can only act maturely for so long. In terms of running, being able to sprint for those final few hundred metres is obviously encouraging: it suggests fitness isn’t that bad and that, cometh the hour, if I’m close to my target time I may find the little extra required. Trust me, this is no lifetime capability of mine! Sure, the childish nature is – but the ability to sprint at the end? Nope, that’s a new one. As much as anything it’s fuelled by the desire to be able to stop as soon as possible! But it could still prove useful.

A picutre of good health.
(Well, of a Doctor, anyway)
Last but not least, as we headed back for the top of the hill (by car, too darn right) Jon and I talked about nights drawing in and morning runs. The former are far more noticeable for runners than for Joe Bloggs (assuming Joe Bloggs doesn’t run in the evening): what was a perfectly safe time for being out running only weeks ago is no longer that suitable. Hence the latter, the morning runs, are a necessity rather than a choice for me. Jon agreed but did confess to the pleasure of coming home from an evening run and settling in on the sofa for the night in comfy shorts and with a nice, unhealthy pizza…
…as if by telepathy, last night Mrs S greeted me with a request for a pizza. Now this had been scheduled for Friday night, but her hunger levels prompted her to establish the feasibility for a change of plan. Not wanting to disappoint my… er, assistant coach (don’t worry Nick, your role is not under threat), I rang the very decent (if incapable of spelling ‘spicy’ in Italian) Pizza Picante and ordered our ‘usual’: 14” Quattro Formaggi (or, as their menu spells it, ‘fromaggi’) and potato wedges to share, and… yup, I even treated myself to a can of Dr Pepper (an optional component of our ‘usual’, if that’s no oxymoron). All I needed to do now was find some comfy shorts… having done so, it seems rude not to share the photo on the right with you!

Such a pair should not shock those who’ve seen me in full glo-yellow attire. Nevertheless, I should point out that, much as I love them unconditionally, I neither chose nor bought those shorts. I did not come face-to-face with them and desire them from the off. No, they’re me Dad’s – I stole them from his wardrobe some ten years or so back. Those and another pair which are both longer and… what’s the term… “more shocking”? “worse”? Who knows. Just you try and fathom how ‘lively’ those are and you never know, I may post a picture one day.

Wrapping up – again, thanks Jon. And yes, let’s do it again sometime soon. Before October 30, that is. I’m not sure I could be bothered after that – not for a good few weeks, anyway! I may have to spend more time on the couch eating pizza in dodgy shorts for a while!

So, tomorrow morning… shall I treat myself to trail and views? Or shall I see if I can improve on my PB for my routine 10.2km route? Hmmm… you know, it may just have to be the latter. Just to… you know, see. No pressure.
Oh, one last thing: the Squintani family will no longer be travelling en masse to Sheffield for the SheffieldTenTenTen! I’ll be heading up solo on the train… £80! Still slightly tempted to detour via Yeovil on the Saturday (22/09) to take in the mighty Blades… but, in spite of sense of duty, doubt I’ll do so. Best get up to Sheffield nice and early and start acclimatising… right? What with already having bought the train tickets and all that..!

* is it the Irish sea? is it the Bristol Channel? Good point. To be fair, it’s the Bristol Channel: it only really becomes open sea some fifteen miles or so down the coast. But it’s not far off: since moving here I’ve always maintained that the term you use depends on whether you’re buying (‘channel’) or selling (‘sea’). That said, as you will no doubt know the Bristol Channel is subject to the second highest tidal range in the world (and I’m not sure we haven’t overtaken Canada in the past few years), so there’s still something to brag about. And, for sure, something to be careful about when running alongside it.
** if/when I order them, that is – that’s not just some random hope
*** not to be confused with Brian Blessed, incidentally, whose blessing I may or may not have. Now there’s someone who’d make an ‘interesting’ coach/motivator.. in any sport! You think Fergie gives a good "hairdryer treatment"???

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